How to eat like an Olympic athlete

From breakfast to pre-workout snacks, we reveal what Team Canada athletes eat.

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How to eat like an Olympic athlete
Photography by Jeff Coulson
You've likely heard about the insanely high-calorie diets of Olympians. American swimmer Michael Phelps consumed 12,000 calories a day during his Olympic training, while Jamaican runner Usain Bolt chowed down on his favourite food—Chicken McNuggets—before every race at the Beijing Olympics.

But the Games aren't a food free-for-all—they're actually about dietary discipline. Bobsledder Kaillie Humphries can attest to this. "The first couple months of training, I eat no carbs and no sugar," she says. Instead, she focuses on high-fat foods such as meat and full-fat dairy, which help her stay lean while still providing energy.

Breakfast
Breakfast is important to all athletes. Skeleton racer Jon Montgomery starts his day with something he calls "bulletproof coffee"—a cup of joe combined with a medium-chain triglyceride like coconut oil, butter or heavy cream, which his body can readily use as fuel. Montgomery also has a smoothie made of kale, beets, carrots, spinach, low-sugar fruits such as blueberries and blackberries, an amino acid protein powder and a whey protein isolate.

Hockey player Sidney Crosby is all about a healthful breakfast, too. "He cooks things like egg-white omelettes, turkey bacon, steel-cut oats and some greens, like spinach or asparagus," says Crosby's trainer, Andy O'Brien.

Pre-workout snack
Snowboarder Maëlle Ricker makes sure to have healthful snacks throughout the day. "Wherever I am in the world, I try to make sure I get my hands on a banana. It's such a quick, easy thing to eat while I'm out on the slopes," she says. Other healthful snacks she loves include yogurt, dried fruit and nuts.

Para-alpine skier Kimberly Joines says that the timing of her meals is really important. "The bulk of my protein and carbs are consumed within close proximity to my hardest training hours, and I generally taper my calories toward evening, with a focus on a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables," she says.

Sledge hockey player Greg Westlake has a similar approach. "I have to eat a good meal within 30 minutes of a workout," he says. He eats a slow-burning carb like quinoa or whole wheat pasta with a bit of protein an hour and a half before a workout. Westlake is also big on staying hydrated. "The first thing I do when I wake up is drink two big glasses of water, and I continue to drink water throughout the day. Water is like liquid gold."

Special treats
None of this is to say that athletes are averse to treats. O'Brien says Crosby has a serious sweet tooth. While he acknowledges that athletes need a little more sugar to replace glycogen stores, he says Crosby has to really make an effort not to eat too much candy.

Figure skater Tessa Virtue says she has to allow herself treats, especially post-competition: "You're a person, too, not just an athlete."
— With files from Jill Buchner and Day Helesic

And what about sleep?

Our Olympians are getting schooled about sleep. Funded by Own the Podium, Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary, researched how to minimize the effects of jet lag on athletes. He fine-tuned a complicated regimen of melatonin, sleeping pills, in-flight sleep hygiene, post-flight napping, caffeine and light therapy. If Canada performs well in Sochi (which is nine hours ahead of Montreal and 12 hours ahead of Vancouver), science will be able to take some credit!  
— Janet Rowe

Check out how you can workout like an Olympian.
                                           
This story was originally titled "Eat Like an Athlete" in the February 2014 issue.
           
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